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Countries considering geoengineering — the manipulation of the Earth's climate to counteract the effects of global warming — as a solution to soaring carbon dioxide emissions should approach the idea with caution, says the United Kingdom's Royal Society.

Geoengineering is no longer too radical a solution for our rapidly warming climate, they say in a report published this week (1 September), but further research and strict guidelines for use must be developed internationally: geoengineering could have "disastrous side effects" such as weakening the Asian monsoon and degrading the ozone layer — affecting billions of people.

One favoured idea involves filling agricultural land with carbonate and silicate compounds to turn fields into "carbon sponges". But even this method runs the risk of altering the acidity of soil or marine ecosystems unless precautions are taken with disposal.

The Royal Society warns that geoengineering is decades away from fruition.

"These things may help us get out of a fix later in the century," says John Shepherd, chair of the report and an earth scientist at the UK's University of Southampton. "But we have to do research now."

His sentiments are echoed by other researchers, one of whom calls for "stringent ethical review and public discussion" before field experiments are trialled.

Link to full article in Nature

Link to full Royal Society report